Written by Amanda Coers – A DNA composite image of a suspect in the Rhonda “Chantay” Blankinship murder is a shocking match to 21 year old Ryan Derek Riggs who confessed to the crime to both his church congregation as well as law enforcement a week after the image was released.
“That photo is the reason why we got justice for our daughter,” said Michelle McDaniel, Chantay’s mother, in an emotional video posted in the #JusticeForChantay# Facebook group page on November 15th.
According to Brown County Sheriff Vance Hill, Riggs confessed to the congregation at North Lake Community Church Wednesday night that he had murdered Chantay. Riggs and his parents attend North Lake Community Church where Chantay had also attended services and sang in the choir. Her funeral was held at the church, as well as a candle light vigil on the anniversary of her death.
The pastor of the church quickly contacted the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and Riggs’ parents drove him to the Law Enforcement Center, where he again confessed. He was arrested and jailed for Capital Murder. Riggs’ is also charged with illegal dumping. The Brown County Sheriff’s Office had been investigating an instance of household trash that was discovered recently dumped near where Chantay’s body had been discovered. The contents of the garbage were confirmed to be from the Riggs residence.
“This man went to church with her,” Michelle McDaniel said in the video. “He’s just a kid himself.”
During a November 16th press conference, Sheriff Hill revealed additional details about the case. The cause of death was determined to be a crushed larynx. There was also evidence of blunt force injuries to Chantay’s neck, face, and torso. Evidence of a sexual assault was located and semen was collected at the scene. A lawn mower blade was also discovered at the scene. The blade was analyzed and compared to the wounds on Chantay’s body, with confirmation that it was used during the assault.
A review of Riggs’ Facebook Profile shows he shared several posts regarding Blankinship’s murder just days after her body was discovered. Sheriff Hill confirmed Riggs knew Chantay and that her murder was possibly premeditated.
DNA SNAPSHOT WAS A PIVOTAL BREAK IN THE CASE:
Brown County Sheriff Vance Hill, along with District Attorney Michael Murray, and Sergeant Scott Bird, held a press conference at 10 a.m. on Thursday, November 9th, regarding new details in the Chantay Blankinship murder investigation. An image of the suspect’s physical features was provided by Parabon Snapshot out of Reston, Virginia, a DNA Phenotyping Company that uses revolutionary new forensic DNA analysis that can accurately predict the physical appearance and ancestry of an unknown person from DNA.
Sheriff Hill later confirmed during a press conference held on November 16th that the striking likeness of the suspect portrayed in the Phenotype image was a compelling reason for Riggs’ confession. Riggs began avoiding law enforcement shortly after the image was released publicly, but later confessed in church to a stunned congregation.
There is no indication his family had any idea he was connected to the murder of Chantay.
ABOUT THE CASE:
On Saturday, May 14, 2016, the sheriff’s office received a call regarding the disappearance of Rhonda “Chantay” Blankinship, 25, a Brown County resident from the North Lake Brownwood area. Family reported last seeing Blankinship Friday in her neighborhood.
Friends, family and volunteers launched a search party the next day in an effort to locate Blankinship. Her body was located around 5:20 p.m. in a rural area approximately five miles from her home, an apparent victim of homicide.
Texas Rangers as well as agents with the FBI have been involved at various points throughout the investigation. Previous suspects in the murder case did not match the DNA found at the scene. Investigators felt it was likely the suspect was from the Brownwood area, with knowledge of the remote location where Chantay’s body was discovered.